Brother's MFC-5890CN is a six-in-one inkjet multifunction device that allows you to print, scan, photocopy, read memory cards, and send and receive faxes all from the same unit. Not only that, it can print at up to A3 size and it's quite good as a photo printer.
Brother MFC-5890CN: Design, paper handling, inks
The MFC-5890CN is a mid-range model that's suitable for home or small office use. It costs $299 and has very easy to use controls on its front panel. There is a hinged 3in LCD screen on which you can browse the menu system and view photos from memory cards. The buttons are well spaced, clearly labelled and easy to press. We like the placement of the memory card readers on the front of the machine: there is a separate slot for CF cards, and a combination slot for SD, Memory Stick and xD cards.
Despite being an A3 printer, the MFC-5890CN doesn't look big. That's because it doesn’t have 'wings' and there aren't any cables protruding out of the rear. Consequently you can place the MFC-5890CN closer to the wall than other printers. A paper cassette at the front is used to hold up to 150 sheets of A4 paper. When the paper exits the printer (via a curved paper path), it rests on top of the cassette — up to 50 sheets of output can be held there. Printed A4 sheets and 6x4in photo prints rest within the confines of the printer and you have to fish them out. Photo prints can be a little hard to get to due to their size, as they sit deeper inside the printer once they exit.
The USB cable connection is not on the outside of the printer. You have to lift the top half of the printer to get to it and you must snake the USB cable along the pre-defined path. You can also use the Ethernet port next to the USB port to connect the printer to your router and share it across your network (the supplied software CD makes this easy to do). The placement of these ports means that some of the cable's length has to be sacrificed.
Inkjet technology is used for printing and unlike most mid-range printers, the ink cartridges are not situated directly on the print head. Instead, they reside on the front of the printer and capillary tubes transfer the ink to the print head. This makes the print head lighter and results in less vibration while the unit is printing.
Four cartridges are consumed by the printer: black, yellow, cyan and magenta. These reside in the front of the machine and are a little difficult to install the first time you use the printer. The cartridge caps are hard to remove and we felt like we were going to break something. On the plus side, the caps make a very cool hydraulic-like sound once they are removed. When you place the cartridges into the printer, you have to manoeuvre them awkwardly until they lock into place — there is no clear guide rail for them.
As soon as you install the cartridges, the printer cleans the print head automatically. It takes a few minutes before you can use the printer. You can spend this time putting paper into the cassette. Paper can't be quickly fed into the MFC-5890CN — like a laser printer, you have to remove the cassette to add paper to it. This can be tedious if you regularly switch from A4 paper, to photo paper or A3.
Brother MFC-5890CN: Print quality and speed
While it's printing, the MFC-5890CN is not especially noisy, but if you're in a quiet environment you'll also hear the print tubes wheezing, which can be annoying, especially if you're printing long documents. During our tests, the printer managed a speed close to 2.5 pages per minute, which isn't fast when compared to units such as Canon's PIXMA MP550 multifunction printer (over 6ppm), and it's also slower than Epson's Stylus Photo T50 photo-oriented printer (3.5ppm). Text is slightly feathered around the edges and looks a little grey rather than black, but it's still acceptable for office documents and school assignments.
Photo print quality was better than we expected, and we were even able to print photos on glossy paper from other vendors without any problems. We used Kodak and Epson paper for our tests. The Epson paper produced slightly brighter results, but photos using the Kodak paper were still impressive. Photo prints had well-defined detail. This was especially the case with 6x4in photos, but even A3 photos looked great. Our only quibble is that black was slightly tinged with green; this was noticeable on predominately black photos. A full-bleed 6x4in photo took 1min 44sec in our tests, while a bordered A4 photo took 4min 8sec and a bordered A3 print took 7min 18sec. One slightly confusing aspect of the printer driver is that if you want to print a 6x4in photo, you have to select the 'photo' option from the paper size list. There is no 6x4in option.
If you'll be doing a lot of photo printing, you'll run out of ink fairly quickly. The MFC-5890CN has individual ink tanks so you can replace individual ones as needed, but you don't need to buy all the inks separately. Brother sells a single pack with cyan, magenta and yellow inks in it for about $49. Coupled with a standard $37 black cartridge, the cost per page is approximately 23 cents. You can also buy high yield cartridges.
Brother MFC-5890CN: Scanning and copying
Apart from printing, the MFC-5890CN is a scanner, copier and fax machine. Its scanning capability is adequate, but during our tests we noticed some loss of detail in areas with subtle colour gradations. There is no moire pattern removal in the scan driver, so post-processing in an image editor might be required when you scan old magazines or photos. You can initiate scans directly from the printer itself, and they can be sent either to the PC or to a memory card. You can also select whether you want to scan something as a file, an image or perform optical character recognition (OCR) on it. OCR will work perfectly on printed text, but it will struggle mightily with handwriting.
Copies take about 40sec to emerge from the MFC-5890CN at 100 per cent size, and the unit will print while it simultaneously scans. Similar to the scan results, copies lacked some fine detail in areas with shadows and complex colour details. Copies can be enlarged up to 198 per cent.
There is no on/off switch on the MFC-5890CN. Instead it has a power save button. When you press it, the printer will go into a standby mode and consume under 1 Watt of electricity.
When you take into consideration that the Brother MFC-5890CN can print up to A3 size, it's not a bad deal. It's a useful printer for printing photos as well as colour documents — even though its speed won't win it any trophies — and its 23 cents cost per page is reasonable. It's an easy-to-use multifunction unit with a compact design and it's suitable for home users and small businesses alike.
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